Is it possible to do a DIY economical spring bear hunt?

By Tom Claycomb lll

So, you’ve got a hankering to go spring bear hunting out west, but don’t know where to go, how to do it and don’t have much money? Don’t worry, we can do this. I do a lot of bear hunting myself, so let’s see if we can’t help you out. There are basically three ways to spring bear hunt:

  • Hunt with hounds
  • Bait
  • Spot/Stalk

If you’re hunting with hounds, then a guide will help you get the job done, which is going to up the costs. So, for this article, we will focus on baiting and spot/stalk. If you’re an out-of-stater, then baiting is going to be a little tough to do properly. It takes at least two weeks for a bait to be worth setting on. It takes that long for the bears to find it and then a bit of time to get multiple bears coming in. I call a bait a good bait if I have 4-6 bears per afternoon coming in. If you only have one bear coming in, then he can come when he wants and that is usually at dusk. We want multiple bears coming in, so the big boy is prompted to come in earlier, so as to not miss out on a big meal.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s start at the beginning and discuss the basics.

Anyone can shoot a 3 ½ year old bear. What you want to find is a big, mature boar like this one.

Lodging
Maybe you live out west and have never bear hunted or maybe you’ve just moved out here and wonder how to bear hunt. Maybe you live back east and want to come out west and bear hunt. The most popular time to hunt is in the spring. Not all states have a spring bear hunt, but Idaho (my home state) still does. Due to all of the supplies you’ll need, I’d suggest you drive out. That way you can camp up in the mountains where you’ll be hunting.

As you know, lodging and eating out are the biggest expenses, so if you camp out, you’ll slash those expenses immensely. And, if you set up a base camp, then you don’t have to drive 1-2 hours every day to get to where you’ll be hunting.

If you decide to fly, you can rent a motel room in a local mountain town at pretty reasonable prices. Plan ahead so they’re not full. Usually in the spring, there should be plenty of vacancies. With the Internet, it’s easy to find motels in the area that you are hunting in, but in some little mountain towns, options are limited, so book early. For example, if you’re hunting in Atlanta, there’s only one motel. If hunting near Cascade or McCall, you’ll have multiple options. Yellow Pine only has one or two. So you get my drift, start planning early.

Where To Hunt
You will be ahead of the game if you are familiar with an area from deer/elk hunting there in the past, but if you’re doing it cold turkey, realize, the first trip may be half exploratory. I’d suggest calling the local Fish and Game Department and asking them about a good spot in the area. Once you determine that, order some Forest Service maps of the area and then order some more detailed maps from MyTopoMaps.com.

Another good choice is to put in for a special draw area. The number of hunters you will be competing with will be limited, so you’ll see bigger and more bears. In Idaho, I know this is true. A side note; Colorado outlawed their spring bear hunts years ago, but they have a spot/stalk September hunt that is great. And also remember, the more remote you hunt usually means you won’t have to compete with hound hunters.

Baiting
If you are an out-of-stater, then you probably won’t have time to set up a good bait, but let’s briefly cover baiting. Like was stated above, it takes two weeks for a bait to be worth setting on and the later in the season it gets, the more magical it is.

After a long hard winter here in Idaho, a bear’s stomach is queasy and he doesn’t come out and gorge the first week after hibernation. So, the later it gets in the season, the more he eats and the better your bait gets.

I’ve hauled 10’s of thousands of pounds of meat up to the mountains for bait, but really meat is not the best choice. They can grab a piece and run off in the woods to eat it, plus, it is tough on their stomachs at first. I like to use bait that is smaller, requiring them to spend more time there scooping it up to eat, like dog food or cereal. And, as you can imagine, donuts are magical. But no matter what you decide to use, be ready to have plenty of bait, because they can eat 200-300 lbs. every 2-3 days and you don’t want to run out or they’ll move on.

Color-phase bears are pretty plentiful in Idaho as well as pure black bears.

Spotting/Stalking
So, now we come to your most likely method to hunting, spotting and stalking. In the spring, bears will follow the snowline. This is because flowers and tender grass are popping out as the snow recedes uphill as it thaws out.

Bears eat a high fiber diet, so they’ll leave a lot of sign. You will want to hunt areas with a lot of bear scat laying around. But, here’s my favorite method. Before dusk, I climb up on top of a ridge and set up a spotting scope. About an hour before dark, we usually see bears come out and feed on the flower tops and grass just like cattle. Now we are taxed with determining a number of things: is he big enough to pursue – is he rubbed – is our cover good enough to make a good stalk – how’s the wind. All of these questions must be answered before you make another move. You may even have to call it a night and resume the next afternoon.

No matter which type of hunting you decide to do, you’ll want to bring a good framed backpack to pack out the hide, skull and meat and a good set of knives. Talk to your taxidermist before you head out and ask him how he wants you to prepare the hide if you are looking to mount your prize.

I like to turn my spring bear meat into sausage; one of my favorites.

Tags
In Idaho, bear hunting tags are pretty reasonable:

  • Hunting license $154.75 (Big Game)
  • Bear Tag $186.00
  • Bait Tag $31.75

Seasons
Here in Idaho, seasons vary according to which zone you’re hunting in. They may close the end of May, middle of June or the end of June. But one thing is constant, the later in the season it gets, the better the hunting is. Good luck and most of all, enjoy the great outdoors.